In the interests of research, I tried many different types of massage on this trip – deep tissue, aromatherapy, Balinese, to name but a few.
The strangest was the chakra unblocking head massage, which I had in the Royal Palace at Bundi. The masseuse flicked and scratched my head and pulled hard on chunks of my hair – she must have been the playground bully when she was a child, I decided. The she slapped me repeatedly around the head with a strange hand movement that sounded just like castanets – or maybe it was castanets … I was face down, suffocating in the pillow so I couldn’t see a thing.
My chakras must have been very blocked since they required such forceful unblocking. I felt quite disoriented when it was finally over as I’d been given such a beating – I had to recline on a chaise longue with a cup of tea to recover. I wondered if the King ever had a massage in the royal spa, and if he did, whether they were just as brutal with him. Mind you, looking at a picture of his ancestor –
I don’t think he’d have taken very kindly to a sustained battering from his massage therapist.
The most interesting massage, however, was the Keralan ayurvedic one. My masseuse was a large, no-nonsense girl called Sandra –
who said things like “sit!” whilst shoving my shoulders down hard until I buckled at the knees. Then she said “take all clothes off” and she tied a white paper loincloth around me, so I looked and felt like a sumo wrestler.
I sat on the small stool she’d forced me down onto, while she scratched and banged my head. Not again, I thought – why do I keep shelling out good money for someone to slap me round the head?
Next came the face massage, where I clamped my lips firmly together, not wanting to ingest any of the gloop she was rubbing up and down my face. When she’d finally finished, I thought I’d gone blind – it took ten minutes of blinking and rubbing to clear enough oil out of my eyes for me to be able to see.
The body massage involved heating oil on a primus stove –
which was directly underneath the wooden massage table I was lying on. I could feel the heat from it, and hoped the whole place wasn’t going to go up in flames – I was so coated in oil that I’d have been shallow-fried in a matter of seconds. There was just so much oil and it was so hot – I’d never really thought about what it might be like to be boiled in oil, but decided that I wouldn’t like it much.
The massage involved large round pushing and pummeling movements, punctuated by a hefty slap every time Sandra needed to release some pent-up aggression. She karate-chopped me all over, punched the soles of my feet twice each, and then did that horrible thing where they pull your toes hard and make a snapping noise when they get to the end of each toe – and it hurts.
I alternated between wincing in pain and trying not to laugh – especially when she slapped my stomach, or rubbed my oily boobs up and down so fast that they were practically spiralling by themselves.
Next came the ayurvedic herbal bit. She got the primus going again, heated up the oil and started hitting me with a hot oily club.
It wasn’t literally a club, because it was made of cloth, but the cloth was filled with something solid – possibly wet cement – and she was pounding me all over with it.
Every time the club became bearably cool, she’d stop and I’d feel the flames beneath me as she heated it up again. Then, as she removed it from the hot oil, she’d bang it hard on the table and I’d flinch, wondering which particular patch of skin would be branded next.
Most spas have relaxing music or total silence, but this one was next door to the martial arts display studio, so my relaxing soundtrack was war cries and the clash of swords and clatter of shields. In my more fanciful moments, I imagined I was at Agincourt, having a rub-down while Henry rallied the troops: ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
But I don’t suppose many of Henry’s men were injured by ferocious massage therapists wielding oil soaked clubs … the French commanders missed a trick there.